The spellbinding tale of hustler Edgar Laplante - the king of Jazz Age con artists - who becomes the victim of his own dangerous game.
Edgar Laplante was a small-time grifter, an erstwhile vaudeville performer, and an unabashed charmer. But after years of playing thankless gigs and traveling with medicine shows, he decided to undertake the most demanding and bravura performance of his life. In the fall of 1917, Laplante reinvented himself as Chief White Elk: war hero, sports star, civil rights campaigner, Cherokee nation leader - and total fraud.
Under the pretenses of raising money for struggling Native American reservations, Laplante dressed in buckskins and a feathered headdress and traveled throughout the American West, narrowly escaping exposure and arrest each time he left town. When the heat became too much, he embarked upon a lucrative continent-hopping tour that attracted even more enormous crowds, his cons growing in proportion to the adulation of his audience. As he moved through Europe, he spied his biggest mark on the Riviera: a prodigiously rich Hungarian countess, who was instantly smitten with the con man. The countess bankrolled a lavish trip through Italy that made Laplante a darling of the Mussolini regime and a worldwide celebrity, soaring to unimaginable heights on the wings of his lies. But then, at the pinnacle of his improbable success, Laplante’s overreaching threatened to destroy him....
In King Con, Paul Willetts brings this previously untold story to life in all its surprising absurdity, showing us how our tremendous capacity for belief and our longstanding obsession with celebrity can make fools of us all - and proving that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
“This Jazz Age impostor’s life makes for quite the story, and in King Con, Paul Willetts knows just how to tell it.” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
“King Con is as engaging, ambitious, and colorful as its shady protagonist.... Willetts has dug deep into newspaper archives and investigative files to accomplish what the authorities on two continents failed to do almost a century ago - unravel Laplante’s trail of brazen fraud and deceit.” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
“Willetts weaves a fast-paced, intriguing tale. With the rise of identity theft, celebrity worship, and manipulative social media, this sprightly story of a legendary con artist's outrageous successes becomes a cautionary tale for the digital age.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“In this extensively detailed biography, Willetts traces the brazen and bizarre life of Edgar Laplante, an early 20th century drifter and conman extraordinaire...he keeps the narrative alive with the colorful anecdotes from Laplante’s remarkable life.” (Publishers Weekly)